We're taking a bit of a breather while the world rearranges its underpants. Meanwhile, the other blog is here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Follow your saxophone till you get to the Y-fronts

Some days it becomes apparent that my job is to stack dominoes and to hope for the best.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

That's definitely a racing driver's pinny is that

Give Noreen her due: despite the ten a.m. arrival of those boxes of books from the last-minute raid on the suppliers' warehouse she's managed to get the orders and invoices done and dusted in time for Maudie to run over to the Treasurer's Department in time to meet the end-of-year deadline.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Insured for a vast sum in Green Shield stamps

Like some glacier retreating from the warmth of summer T.Aldous has left the following deposits around the library:
  • Assorted copies of the Library Association Record featuring mobile libraries and trailer library services, none of them younger than 1994, on Nancy's desk.
  • Three copies of The Rose Grower's Annual that were issued to him in 1998 and never renewed, left on the lending library trolley.
  • Assorted pictures of the old Umpty Library, double-exposed with photos of a story time event at Castlebury Avenue Play Centre, left on the photocopier.
  • Almost-mint copies of Books For Keeps dating from the early 1990s, left on Frog's desk.
  • A bag of perished rubber bands left on Maudie's desk.
  • Assorted, mostly rusty, paper clips, drawing pins, and bulldog clips, left on top of the stationery cupboard.
  • Staple removers; the plastic spirals from a few dozen spiral-bound volumes; some springs; plastic crystal tab file tabs; umpteen boxes of cardboard labels for crystal tab file tabs; some wire, we know not why; fifteen bashed-about but now empty lever arch files; and a box of ballpoint pens that don't work, all on Maisie's desk.
  • A copy of the Library Association's proposal to the Major Government for a new library network providing free Internet access to the masses and Pardendale Council's Telematic Strategy 1994, both left in Milton's in-tray.
  • A filing cabinet full of God-knows-what, wished upon Julia.
  • The keys to the old reference library store cupboard that was thrown away in 1999, bequeathed to Doreen.
  • The Helminthdale Edition of the Dewey Decimal System, now with Noreen.
  • A box of 1980s mind exercise paperbacks that were property of Catty General Hospital, found by the confidential waste bins.

"There's no point in hanging onto things for the sake of it," T.Aldous tells Maisie.


I think that, even more than the irritation spectacle of the movement of bits of paper or the daily illustration of the ineffectuality of our managers, the single biggest cause of upset regarding T.Aldous' daily doings is the sheer bloody cruelty of it. He means well, and has meant well, and for all his faults and foibles he doesn't really deserve this protracted tragicomedy.

Well, he's back in again today. Let's hope it's just a quickie.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Top Gear

Billy Meredith is in a meeting with Jack Harry and Nancy. They've decided he's taking the Mobile Library out to next Saturday's Urban Village Fête at Pottersbury Road.

"So you're OK for taking the Mobile out on Saturday then, Billy?"

"I guess so. What do you want me to do?"

"How do you mean?"

"What are my aims and objectives?"


"They just stared at me," he told us later in the staff room. "They hadn't thought about that."

"Fancy saying 'aims and objectives' to librarians!"

"I know, but it's nice to know what they think you're supposed to be doing."

"Do you work Saturdays?"

"Only Saturday mornings."

"So what's happening on Saturday afternoon?"

"Nancy says she's busy."

"So it's your problem now?"

"Apparently so. They're dead handy at dropping hot potatoes in your lap and walking away."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

There's a lot to be said at our age for a plain matt finish

I'm talking to Lippy when a customer pokes her head through the doorway.

"Are they in yet?" she shouts.

"No, love!" shouts back Lippy.

"I'm 79!" shouts the lady.

"You're looking good on it," shouts back Lippy.

I'm baffled.

"Do you know," says Lippy, "I've known Mrs. Uttercliffe for fifteen years and all that time she's been 79. According to her date of birth she's 72. Bless her."

The vicar's mini-skirt was in the wrong tartan

I walked in at the end of this conversation and so have no idea what on Earth they were talking about. God's good like that sometimes.

"Is there a lot of sheep-rustling round there?"

"Only when they wear tafetta nightdresses."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A loser is not a winner and never will be unless there's a draw

A customer is not happy that we told her that her books were ten days overdue. She's a pensioner and so doesn't pay fines on overdue loans but is still not happy that we told her.

"I want to speak to somebody with a degree," she declares.

Sammi, who is brilliant with customers, tries her best but the lady is determined.

"Have you got a degree? No. I want to talk to somebody with a degree."

Luckily, Maybelle has a degree in Big Hulking Men from the University of Hull Kingston Rovers so she was able to mollify the customer by saying: "I have a degree, do you want to talk to me?"

All of which leaves us in a taradiddle

The week before the end of the financial year is a splendid moment for the council to decide that we could have spent the book fund after all, it having been frozen since the beginning of November. This is the nightmare scenario: if we don't spend it it's an underspend, which affects next year's budget (despite that having been set in stone in December) but we can't actually spend it in the time available to us. Even as a rush job, given that we're down on staff to do the selection, ordering and paying off the invoices, the suppliers are swamped at this time of the year by library authorities dumping last-minute panic buying sprees on them.

"We'll have to do a couple of visits," says Julia.

This is the preferred option of people who won't be having to do three times as much work as usual in a rush to buy in the bin-ends from the supplier's warehouse for to sit around in boxes for months on end while somebody decides where they're going.

Luckily, there aren't enough staff available to keep the doors open without a lot of goodwill over staggered lunch breaks so there's no question whatever of getting a bunch of librarians in a charabanc for a supermarket sweep.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

As if grasped by an alien force

T.Aldous' gala dinner is in a couple of weeks. I feel churlish, it is well-meant after all. But having watched Maisie and Maudie spend most of the day making 'phone calls and sending out formal invitations I'm not happy with the situation.
  • Maisie and Maudie are phenomenally overworked as it is;
  • The council is cutting costs left, right and centre and actively looking for evidence that services have got slack that can be cut (even when there isn't any!);
  • T.Aldous has been retired how long?

Ah, let's not be churlish: this is a service we provide for all the senior citizens in our community.


On the shelves by the Acq. Team I spy a copy of The Helminthdale Library Edition Of The Dewey Decimal System. Typed up on a sit-up-and-beg probably thirty years or more ago and bound in stapled sugar paper. And, typically of work by librarians, no publication date or citation of sources. At a glance (and I am no expert) it's the 16th edition with local "improvements." It is in mint condition.

"Am I to guess where this gem has come from?" I ask Noreen.

"You can tell where it's come from by the use it's been put to," she replies.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A most peculiar day

It had been a really odd day. Even by the standards of the age.

I can't tell you about a lot of it because of my self-denying ordnance against discussing personnel issues. I will say that it's a toss-up which is the more mind-bogglingly inept: the intervention by the manager who has retired or the intervention by the manager still on the payroll.

And there's no point in mithering on about the communication issues or the responsibility issues or the resources issues or the staffing issues because they've been kicked around the park quite a bit lately and I've every intention of doing so again at some length during the course of this week given what's going on.

No more than six times I have sat back in my chair and asked myself what the fuck I imagine I'm trying to achieve by any of the work I'm trying to force myself to do.

No more than three times have Noreen and I stared into the abyss that is the end of the financial year and all that entails and consoled each other with the words: "never mind, there's only thee and me cares about any of this until the auditors come round and sets them all off into a panic."

T.Aldous has only told us that he's the only person who takes the paper clips off the waste paper oh, what, about twenty times. Members of Policy Team have only wandered out, stared over to his office and said to us: "why doesn't somebody do something about him?" five times.

Leaving the office I was between trains so decided to get the bus into Manchester. Foolish. The drunk who pinned the youths to their seats and gave them a twenty minute monologue was a treat. I was impressed that somebody's still selling spirits in brown paper bags. It started off innocently enough:
"It's a real ticket you know. It's not just a piece of white paper. The driver knows it's a real ticket. I'm not going to jail for the World Cup, no matter what they do, so I'm going to plead not guilty at the magistrates'. I'm good for forty quid you know. No, sixty. But he'll tell you straight, it could be a hundred. I'm not going to jail for the World Cup..."
His Parthian shot as the lads got off the bus was:

"Watch yourself boys! I've got it on good authority that the Tories are coming back in on 28th May!"
He should have been the star turn. He wasn't. If there's anything worse than a driver's mate travelling on the bus platform it's another bloody driver travelling on the bus platform. Especially when he spends quarter of an hour telling the driver about his laser eye surgery. In a very loud voice. Step by step by step. He only told the driver, and the rest of us, three times that the really scary bit is when you see the needle approaching your eye as they give you the anaesthetic. And the bit about watching the scalpel pierce the veil was well worth the repetition. After a mile of this I was ready to jump out of the window. We all breathed such a huge sigh of relief when it came to his stop and he pissed off out of our lives.

"I'll be seeing you again Fonteyn!"
Walking across town to try and catch the bus home I was accosted by an elderly chap offering passers-by religious tracts.

"Jesus loves you my boy!" he yelled.
I promise you, he really did then start singing "Jesus wants me as a sunbeam."

I missed my bus. I could wait another half an hour for the next one and then another three-quarters for it to get me home. Or I could wait another fifty minutes for a train which should take ten, fifteen minutes tops. Sod it, I got a taxi. Sigh. In Manchester these days you have to give taxi drivers directions. Made the harder when the driver's got his earpiece in and he's having a long, interminably long conversation with his mate with no stops for breath. We overshot my house by ten houses because he was so intent on his conversation and trying to speed over the speed humps he couldn't here me saying: "you can stop here please."

I don't know why people need mind-altering drugs. If you live right and work in the public sector you can have your consciousness smashed to bits without popping a single pill.


There are things you don't ever want a system administrator say to you.

I bump into Jim Lettuce, who's mildly boggled.

"We've just had a training session on our new performance management system," he tells me.

"How'd it go?"

"OK I guess. But the bloke doing it said something very odd. He said: 'you really have to admire Hitler for his ruthless efficiency.'"

"Was he being inappropriately ironic?" I ask, from experience.

"No. At least not judging by the emails he keeps sending us."

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Madame De Farge's discourse on office lunchtimes reminds me that I've been meaning to explain our mid-day régime...

The first, and some days only, priority is to get out of the damned building, even only for ten minutes. This is easier said than done:
  • "I know you're just going on your lunch but..."
  • "You'll have to take the back stairs, the lift's broken again."
  • "Can you be sure to be back for one? We need someone to cover the 'phones."

And then there's the business of actually getting out of the building, which is built like a maze. It's generally easiest to escape via the fire escape onto Abattoir Lane but this is generally frowned upon. So that's what we do.

There are still a few butty shops left in the town centre and they're generally very good (the girl in the shop on the corner has the nicest eyes but the bread's better at the shop on Jimpo Road). These are all well and good but you then end up having to go back to the staff room for to eat them (the company's good and the banter's fun but you're still in the building and available for interrupting).

There is a staff canteen in the Town Hall. The food's OK, a bit school dinners but OK. Very few council staff actually eat in the staff canteen. By the time they get out of the office at twelve o'clock all the good stuff's been devoured by the pensioners who've been to the morning tea dance and the remainders have been prodded heavily by passing councillors.

So we scuttle off to one or other pub or tea room. For many years the favourite bolt-hole was 'The Dreaded Tankard' on Hilpot Lane. The food was cheap and excellent and the landlady, a madly-energetic little bird of a woman, fussed over us like a mother hen. We very seriously tried to make the bottle room an official meeting room but were heavily overruled by Mary.

These days we split our time between 'The Duck & Pullet,' 'The Liberty Horse' and Nancy's Tea Room. It's important to get that time out of the building.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Rough Guide To Ways Of Avoiding Sleeping With Sheep

"It seems strange being in the midst of March and having the fire exit corridor empty," I say to Noreen.

"Have you not been in there today?" she asks.

So I had a look.

"What is it?" I ask.

"We're hoping it's a piece of furniture."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Comrades of the Khyber

We are trying to pull together various pieces of work that Our Lords And Masters have wished upon us in dribs and drabs over the past few weeks. We have learned over the years the value of getting round a pot of tea every so often and sifting through the jigsaw puzzles. It takes us no great time at all to discover that three of us have been asked to do the same piece of work in different ways and that Frog's been asked to run an event at Milkbeck Library (because "they've not had one lately) on the same day as has Bronwyn (because "they've not had one lately"). There are a few others in a similar vein. We do what we can to disentangle the mess without actually laying ourselves open to charges of insubordination. A review of the resources being made available to us for the delivery of these activities (to wit: none) is quick and dispiriting.

"I keep being told by Policy Team that we need to be taking more responsibility," I mention in passing.

"Strange that. I keep being told that," says Maybelle.

That noise you're hearing is a group of people sitting round a table not asking out loud if Policy Team is planning on taking a lead on taking any responsibility any time soon.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's all done with nostril control

The world has turned upside down and Sibyl is burning feathers under Noreen's nose to try and bring her back to her senses.

The Reference Librarians have cancelled a standing order.

God bless all policemen and fighters of crime

We are having a problem with a hooligan element at Epiphany Library, which this time isn't the staff.

"They're a real pain in the arse and they just won't leave the library, even when the police tell them to go away and leave our customers alone. Just what are we supposed to do?"

"You could pretend they're retired Chief Librarians."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Swinging my malacca

I bump into Ken Barmy buying wine gums in the snug of The Duck & Pullet.

"Got rid of yours yet?" I ask.

"Don't take the piss, it's not nice."

He hands me a greasy red lozenge uncertainly stamped PU\T.

"Salad Days and The Mousetrap," he toasts.

Upon hearing the first cuckoo of Spring

We were told about this by a colleague at a training seminar this morning. It's an email sent by their council's IT section.

From March 01 2010 do not send emails to colleagues for immediate messages. Telephone them or arrange to have a meeting. This council promotes conversation.

We every one of us insisted that they forward us a copy of the offending email, simultaneously giving us all a laugh and compromising a ripe bit of corporate idiocy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cancel the milk and you're away!

News from Year Fifty of the Time Team dig of T.Aldous' office. The man himself brings a crystal file to the recycling bin.

"This is taking forever. I mean: you'd be surprised at the rubbish that people hoard for no apparent reason. Look at all this: Arthur Pemberton [T.Aldous' predecessor-but-one who retired in 1986] even kept a receipt for every car mileage claim his staff made, he never threw them away. Look at them all here! What anyone would want to keep that for I do not know."

Science illuminates womankind

We'll have no sense out of the girls today. They're all Wembley at the knees and full of talk of Professor Brian Cox.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Picnic - Problem in Chair, Not In Computer

"I begin to understand your pain," says Frog.

He has sent an email to staff asking them to have a look at a new reading programme web site. He has had some replies, such as:

Frog, does this work?


I sent you a letter a long time ago...

T.Aldous flourishes the latest finds from the dig:

"Do you know, there's stuff in my files that Reggie Clockwatcher had kept since 1997! What's the point of his hoarding stuff like that?"

Reggie Clockwatcher has been retired four years.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Huge amounts of territory dedicated to doing nothing

Frog's turn to be pissed off about holiday interruptions. He can't have a long weekend because he's needed to provide lunchtime cover upstairs in the Lending Library on Saturday so that Lola can go over and provide lunchtime cover at Catty Library.

Catty Library is closed at lunchtime.

Wilting like a geordie watching Shakespeare

Posy is seething. She's been on holiday this week. On Monday she got a 'phone call, while she was on the beach in a far away place, telling her that she needs to cover the enquiry desk at Milkbeck Library this afternoon.

"It wouldn't have killed them to have waited until I came in this morning."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The well-tempered liver sausage

I bump into Ken Barmy on the way home. He is extremely grumpy, even by his standards.

"I've spent the day looking at the sunshine on the windows and thinking that I could have had the whole week off."

"Why didn't you?"

"I decided only to have a couple of days because there was a meeting that my managers insisted we had to be at and there's quite a lot of stuff needs doing."

"That's a pain."

"I'll say. Especially after the buggers changed the date of the meeting to the end of last week and didn't tell any of us."


Bad news:
Due to the poor financial position of the council it has cut the car mileage allowances of staff.

Good news:
Staff with essential driver status are being sent on a course on how to use less petrol when you drive.

Drowning the Buttercup Queen

The Bobbing Up And Down Team broadcasts another inanity.

Brighten Up The Borough!
We are promoting a positive image of Helminthdale to the world. What would you say to somebody who wanted to know about your Helminthdale?

We might not be in the mood for it.

"Imagine the Black Death without the feelgood factor," suggests Sybil.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Class image

A teacher rings Senebene Library with a complaint. They are very irate because the library has sent a letter to a parent telling them that their child had written in some books they had borrowed from us.

"How dare you do that! She had not written in those books. I had written in those books."

"I'm sorry. We weren't to know that you were at fault and not her. Please could you remember not to do it again."

"But I always write in books."

"Please don't write in our books."

"I shall. I always write in books."

"But these aren't your to write in."

The last exchange was repeated ad nauseam.

It's no wonder modern youth has so little respect for other people's property.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Pull up a tin of pineapple chunks
they're playing our song, Matilda

Phone call to Noreen from the Land Beyond The Veil:

"We don't seem to have received this year's edition of Proctor's Directory of Assemblages. Could you chase it up for us please?"

"You've not got it because it's not on your standing order list."

No problem, monkeysocks

I really, really shouldn't do this. Not at all. I shouldn't. No.

I pick up a 'phone that's ringing unattended.

"Can I speak to T.Aldous please?"

"I'm sorry, he retired last month."

"But he just rang, leaving a message asking to ring him back."

"Ooh. I wonder if the Communications Team are still having problems with the response times on the voice over internet telephones."

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Breaking news

There's no easy way of saying this. You might want to sit down.

Harold MacMillan is dead.

(Sorry about that. Some time soon somebody's going to have to tell the lotophagi in the Reference Library that the 1950s are dead and gone. I'm just getting some practice in, in case it turns out to be my job to do it.)

Friday, March 05, 2010

This is your leader speaking

Maisie has an idea:

"If I lend you my hearing aids you could switch them over to Induction Loop and then neither of us would be able to hear what he was saying to us."

Many exciting happenings to titillate the casual visitor

We're feeling better about our corporate IT bods. We've just found out that colleagues in a neighbouring library authority can't access The Bookseller's web site because their council deems it to be an entertainment site and have blocked it.

Ask not what your library can do for you

It's Friday morning and two members of staff have been sent downstairs for a two minute giggle break. They have now managed to compose themselves and can go back upstairs to look the part of sober-sided public library staff.

The customer's enquiry at the counter was: "Have you any books on how to stop me being a tosser?"

Apparently they kept a straight face for the whole of the transaction.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

I want you out of town on the first stagecoach out of Elstree

A Manichean view of the library world would have it that there are people who take themselves very seriously, to the detriment of the service, and people who take the service seriously, to the detriment of themselves. I suspect I lie in the latter group.

We know one of the things that reference library staff do in the back room. Quarter of an hour before end of play you will notice Winnie leave the desk, go into the office, put her coat on and get ready to leave.

It's all from the learning tree

How modern reference librarianship works:
  • The Reference Librarian rings the Regional Loans Assistant to say that we don't have a copy of the council's Unitary Development Plan.
  • The Regional Loans Assistant finds the UDP on the council's web site.
  • The Systems Librarian creates a catalogue entry for this online document, including the URL in the appropriate MARC tag.
  • The Regional Loans Assistant sends the URL to the Reference Librarian and tells them that the customer can also look it up on the online catalogue.
  • The Reference Librarian asks the Regional Loans Assistant if she can obtain a printed copy of the UDP.
  • The Regional Loans Assistant suggests the Reference Librarian tries the "print" icon on the computer screen.
  • The Regional Loans Assistant and the Systems Librarian wonder what the Reference Librarian is doing in that back office all day.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

That's the reason why mankind was buried in ignorance for hundreds of years

I'm having a review meeting with Milton. Ever since we both concluded that we can't do anything because the IT section's put the blocks on all technical development work and the Library Service can't free up any staff to help with any of the project work on our schedules these meetings have been quite fun.

"We've done a lot of work on improving communications," says Milton.

"Have we?" I ask.

"Well, communications have improved."

"Have they?"

"Yes, of course they have."

"In Policy Team's last set of minutes it gave a list of Easter Holiday activities at Raccoonville Library. What was that about?"

"I've no idea. I don't know where that came from, it certainly wasn't discussed in the meeting."

"And that email I sent to Policy Team asking whether we were ever going to have librarians providing active input to the options available on the public PCs. How did that become Jack Harry emailing Frog to tell him that I was going to build a web site for teenagers and please could he ask them to tell me if they liked how it looked?"

"But communications are improving really, aren't they? They're just glitches. Has Jack Harry got back to you to let you know how many people will be in the training session next week?"


"Has anyone got back to you with anything for the web site about World Book Day?"


"I don't want to ask a third question do I?"

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Plead the headaches

One of my colleagues in another place has just forwarded this e-mail to me, he is somewhat at a loss as to how to rectify it, particularly as they have five public and one staff PC at this branch.

"We are having complaints about the slowness of the computer, especially from one user. Please could you explain it, and try and speed it up, he says that it has been like this for a week and a half!! I know when I have been off the system crashed and Deidre said that two of you have been rectifying the problem. I have to report this as the gentleman is by my side.

"I have noticed for several weeks when I start this computer that it takes ages to get going, to the point where I think I am doing it wrong.

"Please can you assist and calm this user down.

"Thank you."

Monday, March 01, 2010

No, don't show us, just tell us

No no no no no.
No no no.

You don't need the other half of the conversation.

When people start calling you gentlemen it's time to go

I could spend quite some weeks telling you about the upgrade to our public computers, scheduled for two years ago.

Seeing as we're now into the business of having to wait until the IT guys have evaluated the impact of running the new version of Windows on the network; the evaluation work is scheduled for this Summer and that this is the third new version they've delayed the project for to evaluate I think I would lose the will to live.

We are going to mark this very special day by doing the same old rubbish we do all the rest of the year

I know one thing we're doing for World Book Day this year. We're not buying any new books.